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Important messages for the fight against corruption in the report of the European Commission

Transparency - Serbia points that the latest report of the European Commission[1]gives great importance to corruption as a problem for Serbia's progress on the European path, and confirms that state authorities have not implemented numerous laws and plans to fight corruption. In addition to the fact that the word "corruption" is mentioned as many as 77 times in this year's report, the importance given to this problem is confirmed by the fact that it is discussed in relation to all key conditions of EU integration - within political criteria, rule of law, economic development and public administration.

This year's report, more clearly than ever before, shows the unacceptable practice of public procurement and public-private partnerships being contracted on the basis of interstate agreements and special procedures for selecting "strategic partners" in infrastructure projects of "national importance", instead onprocedures prescribed by the law. The EC also reminded of the obligation that Serbia did not respect - to ensure the application of the legal principles of transparency and competition for urgent procurements related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equally important are the call to improve campaign finance rules and the reminderof unfulfilled ODIHR recommendations. The "blurred line” between a public function and a pre-election promotion" in the case of the President of the Republic in the last elections was explicitly highlighted. The same assessment could be given to many other officials as well because, in general, there was no readiness to solve the problem of conducting a "functionary campaign" with adequate legal norms.

As for prosecuting high-level corruption, it is important that the EC reiterates its assessment of the insufficient number of convictions, and the need for proactive actions by public prosecutors. The EC specifically points to the need to protect whistleblowers in such cases, mentioning the case of “Krusik”.It should be emphasize that this is by no means the only case in which argument-based suspicions of possible corruption were presented in the media, which the prosecution did not investigate.

It is also important that the EC underlined some of the problems in the enforcement of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance in the part of the Report that refers to the fight against corruption, because hiding information often hides corruption. However, the Report failed to clearly accent the illegal practice of the Government to ignore requests for access to information.

It is significant that the EC highlightsagain the violation of the law when it comes to the acting positions in public administration. It is omitted thoughto indicate in the Report that the same problem exists in public companies, to an even more drastic extent. However, the EC clearly calls for the problems with the management of state-owned enterprises to be resolvedand, in this context, cites a report by the Anti-Corruption Council that deals with procurement conducted by such enterprises.

In this report, the EC for the first time refers to the Law on the origin of assets and special tax.It is significantthat the Reportindicates that theimplementation of this law needs to be non-discriminatory. At the same time, the EC has passed up an opportunity to analyze the norms of the law, which do not provide guarantees that the law will be primarily aimed at potential participants in corruption.

When it comes to the work of inspections, the need for their better coordination is emphasized, but not the necessity to make their work more transparent, so that the economy and citizens can gain confidence that there is any abuse in determining who will be controlled.

General assessments of "limited progress" in the fight against corruption in the Report are based primarily on the fact that some preparations have been made for the implementation of the Law on Prevention of Corruption (e.g. employment in the Agency), although it is obvious that the conditions for law enforcement are not provided – members of The Council of the Agency should have been elected by 1 September 2020, and the procedure has not even started by then. It is also stated in the Report that preparatory actions for the implementation of the Law on Lobbying were done (bylaws, training sessions of lobbyists), but it is omitted to point out that this law in the first year of implementation did not help the public to learn more about who influences the process of drafting laws and other regulations.